It was about two years ago. It happened somewhat unexpectedly. They found Mom lying face down in the hallway of her Carson City, Nevada, home, probably trying to get to her bed to lie down. I say somewhat unexpectedly because she hadn’t been sick; still, she was a few days shy of her 87th birthday. I guess when you’re in your late 80s, nothing should be considered entirely unexpected.

She and Dad retired to Nevada in the ’90s, but Dad had passed away 14 years before, so she’d lived alone since then. That is until she shacked up with Cal, a friendly old coot with a fake ear she met at the bowling alley. Unfortunately, Cal’s sons decided mom was a gold digger, so he was extracted from the situation and moved to a nursing home even though he had a new place down the road and a snappy gold VW Bug to get around in. They never visited him, but Mom would sneak in and sit with him even though the sons had told the staff she was persona non grata. He died a few months after being moved there, the sons never laying a foot in the nursing home.

Mom was from hearty Midwest Lutheran stock, where family was important (even though her father was an alcoholic who beat her mother regularly), and grandmothers held an esteemed place in those families. They could expect to get cards and letters from their grandkids that began with “How are you? I am fine…” and see them occasionally, the grandkids having to withstand the overwhelmingly floral musk of grandma’s perfume.

Mom always loved kids but only had two herself—my twin brother and me. Later in life, she admitted all she ever wanted was a girl but was happy with how things ended up since my brother and I had turned out alright. I used to joke that I didn’t blame her for not trying again since having to deal with two rambunctious toe-headed boys simultaneously would be enough to swear off sex with Dad forever.

But who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? At 45, after many tries, trials, and tribulations, my wife got pregnant. And for some reason, even before the first ultrasound, I knew it would be a girl, and I couldn’t wait to tell Mom. Nine months later, Hannah was born, and we made plans to visit my Mom and Dad as soon as Hannah was old enough. 

Hannah was a happy child and traveled well. Three months after she was born, we loaded up the Subaru and drove from L.A to Carson City for Christmas. Dad was in a wheelchair by then, choosing to forego the chemotherapy recommended by his doctors to fight the cancer that had returned. He said, “I guess 85 years on this earth is long enough; I’m ready to move on”. I have a picture of him in his wheelchair holding Hannah, beaming like the north star. His light went out a month later. 

The following years were happy- we would drive up to visit Mom and Hannah’s aunts (all three of my mom’s sisters retired to the area as well) as often as we could. They all must have read the same AARP article about the benefits of retiring to Northern Nevada. In the winter, we’d sled at the golf course behind Mom’s housing tract and ice skate at the rink between Cactus Jack’s Cozy Casino and the Carson City Elks Lodge #2177. Summers were spent up at Lake Tahoe or knocking around Carson City, Mom inventing new ways to indulge her only granddaughter. And so it went.

But time is a cruel master, and as the years rolled by, my wife and I drifted apart. Battles were mounted, sides were taken, papers were filed, custody was argued over, disclosures were made, and lawyers made a bunch of money. One result of the divorce was that my daughter became estranged from both me and my mom during a drawn-out, contentious divorce. Legal custody of Hannah was granted to my wife. Hannah chose to become my mortal enemy- leave it up to the vagaries and emotional backlash of divorce and her transmogrifying into a teenager. I guess sometimes, timing is everything. 

After Hannah became estranged, I visited my mom. We discussed why my daughter wasn’t meeting her expectations, probably rooted in some Norman Rockwellian fantasy of how life used to be when she was growing up. A time before mass school shootings, global pandemics, and cyberbullying. I’d tell her that Hannah would come around one day, and try to convince her that it would take time for Hannah to heal from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and divorce, things she had no control over. But time ran out.

I don’t have much to be proud of in life, but there is one thing I suppose I can be patted on the back for. Not too long before she died, I was on the phone with her, and she mentioned she’d be spending Thanksgiving alone. In the past she would have spent it with a friend, but that friend had gotten too old to drive, and Mom didn’t like driving after dark anymore. Mom downplayed the whole thing with typical German stoicism.

So, I bought a plane ticket to Reno and surprised her a few days before Thanksgiving. We drove up to the lake, did a little gambling at Cactus Jacks (Pennypalooza- Cactus Jack’s Row of Penny Slots!), and went to a wine tasting hosted by my cousin Amy, a wine rep. She, her husband, and their two kids had moved up to Reno to be closer to her mother, my mom’s sister. 

Amy invited us to Thanksgiving at her house in Reno, so Mom volunteered to prepare one of her specialties- whipped cream. Yeah, she never was much of a cook, and I know you can buy it in a can, but it was Mom’s signature dish. I picked up a few bottles of excellent wine to complement her amazing whipped cream. We had a glass or two as she prepared her dish, and I took pictures and posted them on Instagram.

We drove to Reno and spent Thanksgiving with Amy’s family, Amy’s mother (and mom’s sister), a few friends, several kids, and a dog or two. We drank wine, feasted, and laughed with the gusto of youth. I flew home the next day, not thinking of how I’d done a good and noble thing but laughing to myself, knowing that I’d turned two lonely Thanksgivings into something special with the lovely woman who brought me into this world.  

Probably the saddest thing about Mom’s death is that she never got to have that one thing it seemed she was holding onto- spending some quality time with her granddaughter and sharing a few laughs and experiences with her as she grew into a woman. All that was left was silence.

This is probably why Mom took to jotting down some notes on a ledger, which I can only assume would be a letter to Hannah, whom she hadn’t seen or talked to in six or seven years. She probably wrote these thoughts down not too long before she passed. Eerily, it seemed Mom knew she’d soon be moving on. I found the notes in a spiral-bound notebook when I was going through her stuff not too long after she died.

The notebook contained several attempts at a letter- stops and starts, thoughts and musings scattered over a few lined pages. Mom was never much of a writer, but I could feel her trying to wrap her head around the feelings and emotions she was trying to communicate to Hannah. I’ve stitched it together and added a few words for clarity, but for the most part, the words are Mom’s and the sentiment she intended.

I’m sharing it here in the hopes that perhaps some grandchild or mother might run across them and reflect on their relationship with someone they love and think about the tangled, negative emotions we allow ourselves to get wrapped up in, those that get in the way of our reaching out and touching the lives of those we love.


This is all I have to leave for you. As I am not the typical grandma- not much of a cook, nor artistic, but I love children and I am good with them, so I hope I will get to show you this. I’m still a child at heart; I always liked to read to you, play with you, and spend time with you.

Please remember that life is not all about riches. It’s about how it feels to hold a caterpillar in your hand. It’s about walking in the rain. It’s about not being ashamed, and how it feels to laugh and to cry, for that is what makes you so special. ​

I realize you were born into a time when things were so different from when I came into this world, as well as when your mother and father did. Please be patient with us and realize that our times were good for us; we had to live through the things we did to learn and grow. And they were good times. We would like for you to experience them as we did—as the reason we are what we have become.

Love always, Grammy.

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